Kids don’t like to be ordered around: what to do about it.

I can’t speak for you, but many adults don’t like to be ordered around either. If you try to look at the world from a child’s point of view, you find they are ordered around all day long—most of it for good reason. We have to keep them safe and healthy, teach them life skills such as cleanliness and social skills that will help them get along with others.

Yet, if we see “keep off the grass signs” or a rope strung between two posts which we know indicates we should not take that shortcut, we might do it anyway—just this one time!  Drive on the interstate and watch who follows the speed limits—as if it is a speed suggestion. Look at a stop sign that people think says, “Stop if you think you have to, but if you think it is safe keep rolling on through.” Many adults may be squirming in their seats right now.

Kids, too,  find demands just a bit tempting. Maybe it’s human nature. But regardless of what it is, let’s figure out how to get what we need to get from children between the ages of 2 and 7. And most of all how to enjoy them at any age no matter how tired we feel.

In the book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, authors Johanna Faber and Julie King offer many creative ideas and anecdotes abut ways to get kids to do what we want without constant battles.

I don’t like to be threatened.

And neither do you.  And neither does a child.  Some parents ask then, what is the difference between a threat and a consequence?  If we can’t tell a small unruly child what to do, what is left?

Let’s dissect a threat.  Faber and King explain that what children hear is not always what we say. For example, when you say:  “If you throw sand one more time,  we’re going straight home.”  What the child hears is “Throw sand…one more time.” Your words become an irresistible challenge.

And the authors warn NOT to think you are softening your request with “please.”  You don’t really mean to accept a “No, thank you,” to your hidden demand—”Please get in the car now.” What would you do if your child says, “No, thank you.”

OK, so I can’t demand. Now what do I do with “the smart, illogical, unruly creature known as a human child”?

Here are 6 ideas from How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.


1. Get the teddy bear to talk!

Or any inanimate object.  For the seven and under crowd, making an inanimate object talk is a fun way to get their attention and maybe get what you want too. For example, say, “The lonely shoe is whining—I feel cold and empty. Won’t someone put a warm foot in me?”

The cups can screech, “Don’t leave me out here by myself. I gotta get in the sink with my buddies!”

2. Boring, boring!

Turn a boring task into a challenge or a game.

I know when I have to clean up the studio or my car, I don’t really feel like doing it. But it needs to get done, and I can put on ear buds, play music that I love, even set a timer to see how quickly I can accomplish the task, and get to work.

We can teach young children this same mindset. They will always and forever have tasks that are ~boring~ but that have to be done. This is the time and place to start a positive attitude toward boring tasks and training for a useful strategy that they can use until the day they are trying to get their own children to do things.

So, instead of saying to the children, “Look at this mess. You know you are supposed to clean up your room before you can….do this or that…”

Turn the task into a game or challenge: “How many seconds do you think it will take to toss all your dirty clothes into this basket? 20? I don’t think so. That’s way too short a time but it’s worth a try.”

“Instead of saying get in the car NOW.” Instead try, “We have to get all the way from the house to the car. Let’s try hopping!”

Instead of demanding they leave a friend’s house, think of “avoiding alligators as you leave.”

Or when you need to settle them down, ask them to “be as quiet as a little mouse hiding in the grass from a cat” rather than saying “be still” or “be quiet.”

Why do all this:  

Takes less energy to make it a game or a fun time than dealing with whining and resistance.

Sets a nice tone.

Makes people feel more loving and cooperative.

Teaches children how to turn a tedious task into a pleasant activity.

3. Oh boy, give them a choice!

Both choices have to be pleasant! Not a choice as to whether they want to get in the car or not…but would you want to “take giant steps to the car or to skip to the car.”  “Do you want your bath with bubbles or boats?”

“Would you like to get your practice over with or would you rather have a snack first. Do you want to practice in the kitchen or in your room? Do you want to practice in the hall or out on the porch? On Skype for Gramma or in front of your Anna doll? “

4. Who’s in charge here?

“I want to be in control!’ grumbles every toddler ever. But of course they can’t be in charge.  But ask yourself, which one of us doesn’t like to feel they have some control.

Faber and King give an example if your child won’t wear a jacket: If you don’t want to argue every day about whether your child wears a jacket or not, make a weather chart with a real thermometer attached and drawings for proper clothing at appropriate temperatures on the thermometer. Hang it outside and Voilà! Then ask the child what the weather is like and ask them what you should wear. Brilliant! Now who’s in charge, eh?


How about for when they have to stop something they enjoy doing? The Time Timer is a great tool. It shows red for how long is left so children can begin to understand predicting lengths of time. This skill is underappreciated because as children grow older, they will have to predict how long homework or any task will take. Those who can’t predict time  are often the ones who are late with homework or doing that term paper the night before


5. Give information not demands!

Rather than saying: “Get in your car seat “or “put your seatbelt on now! Or else you aren’t going to …”

Instead say: “The policemen insist everyone buckle children in car seats” or that “everyone must wear a seatbelt.” I am not going to pretend that some children some of the time won’t argue anyway. But remember, redirect and distract as much as possible.

6. Use 1 word!

What does Charlie Brown hear from his teacher?


Some children don’t process long explanations or demands. It’s all just words. Children aren’t being rude; they just don’t process all those words. Further, we are not training them to discern what is important in those long demands: “Put your toys away in the box like I told you before. There isn’t a maid who comes through each day to clean up after you. You know what I told you before about this.”

Train the children by saying in a pleasant voiceToys!  Just as Charlie Brown doesn’t hear a word his teacher says, neither does your child after a while.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: a new 2017 edition includes a chapter for working with children who have autism or sensory processing issues.

“Any child can be developed. It depends on how you do it.” Shinichi Suzuki

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